By Alfa · Feb 7, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    According To A New Poll, Only 15 Per Cent Of Us Would Vote For The President

    Maybe it's that smug little smile.

    His penchant for fantastically expensive military photo-ops. Or the
    swaggering, belt-hitching walk that cries out for a pair of swinging saloon
    doors. And though, God knows, we have too many of our own syntactically
    challenged politicians to be casting stones, shouldn't the leader of the
    free world know that "misunderestimate" isn't a word?

    Yes, we're cavilling, but clearly there is something about George W. Bush
    that gets under the skin of Canadians. After all, vehemently disagreeing
    with the policies of American presidents is almost a national pastime.

    There has to be another explanation for our extreme reaction, the desire
    afoot in the land to see him turfed from office. That and the unprintable
    sentiment about him and the horse he rode in on. Even before we know whom
    he will be running against this fall, Canadians have made their decision.

    Only 15 per cent, according to an exclusive new Maclean's poll, would
    definitely cast a ballot for Bush if they had the opportunity. And if
    Americans remain almost evenly divided -- some 50 per cent approve of his
    performance in the White House and he's running neck and neck with his
    likely Democratic challengers -- there is no such dithering on this side of
    the border.

    Just 12 per cent of us feel Canada is better off since he took office, and
    only a third of respondents will admit to liking the world's most powerful
    man, even just a little bit.

    It's an antipathy that appears to extend far beyond our traditional
    coolness towards Republicans, says Michael Marzolini, chairman of Pollara
    Inc., the Toronto-based opinion research firm that conducted the national

    With a political spectrum that skews to the left of America's -- legalized
    same-sex marriage and the promise of looser marijuana laws being the most
    recent, and in some quarters, celebrated examples -- we've generally
    perceived Democratic presidents as being more in tune with our values.

    But where Ronald Reagan and Bush the elder were at least grudgingly
    respected, Dubya is decidedly not.

    Despite a spate of polls showing a broad desire for improved relations with
    the United States after the often rocky Chretien years, there is a sense
    that this administration isn't one we want to do business with. "These
    numbers really show the difficulty for Paul Martin," says Marzolini, the
    long-time pollster for the federal Liberal party. "He has to get closer to
    the Americans, but he can't get too close to George Bush. It's a fine
    balance." The intense sympathy Canadians felt following the attacks of 9/11
    -- something that manifested itself not just in acts of mourning and
    charity, but in a willingness to support whatever actions the U.S. deemed
    necessary -- has dissipated. In its place is a deep dislike of the
    bellicose new global reality, and a lingering distrust of Bush's motives.

    It's evident even within sight of the frontier.

    Stopping to take a picture of icy Niagara Falls on a recent frigid day,
    Mike Mitreveski tried to explain why he's uneasy about Bush. "I get a sense
    that he's in it for himself first and then the country," said the Windsor,
    Ont., graduate student. "And I worry that he's doing all of this stuff in
    Iraq for the oil industry.

    He used to be part of it and has lots of high-ranking friends." David
    Kowalewski, an engineering consultant from Niagara Falls, Ont., says he
    initially supported Bush's foreign policy, but now has grave doubts. "I
    thought it was noble at first, but now they've gone security crazy." Life
    has changed for the worse in his community, said Kowalewski, citing long
    delays at the border, and the fallout for local businesses that depend on

    A trio of physicians taking in the sights on a day off were no kinder to
    Bush. On sober reflection, all asked that their names not be used. "Please,
    someone, teach him how to pronounce nuclear," said one, a Toronto
    pediatrician. Another, an American who has lived on this side of the border
    for the past 14 years, said she understands why Canadians dislike so many
    of Bush's stances, even though she is troubled by the tone of the debate.

    A doctor friend from the Netherlands provided a reminder that opinions of
    the President are often even harsher abroad. "In Amsterdam," she said, "we
    think he is kind of stupid."

    On the humid night in August 2000 when George W. Bush officially became the
    Republican nominee for president, the thousands of delegates and reporters
    packed into a Philadelphia arena were given a peek at what party
    strategists planned to sell to the American people.

    The beautifully realized infomercial was mostly shots of Bush at his
    Crawford, Tex., ranch, tending stock, mending fences, driving a vintage
    pickup truck with his spaniel perched on his lap, all the while talking
    about his vision of a big country with small-town values.

    It was a persona lifted straight from a Hollywood Western. The likeable,
    soft-talking cowpoke who knows the value of an honest day's work and isn't
    afraid to take on the guys in the black hats when the town's in trouble.
    Reagan successfully mined the same vein for eight years.

    And it's an image that continues to pay dividends for Bush, playing off his
    folksy, good-natured strengths, and positioning him as someone who might
    reasonably be excused for not reading newspapers or knowing the names of
    his foreign counterparts. Clearing brush on the back forty is a lot more
    man-of-the-people than weekending at the palatial family compound in
    Kennebunkport, Me.

    But Canadians have never been that comfortable with the type of cowboys who
    take the law into their own hands.

    Our frontier heroes were the scarlet-clad North West Mounted Police, not
    lone gunslingers. In a pre-9/11 world, when Bush was vowing to be a
    domestic-policy president, it didn't seem to matter that much. But over the
    past 2 1/2 years, his muscular commitment to protecting and advancing U.S.
    interests abroad -- unilaterally if allies and international bodies such as
    the UN fail to sign on -- has unsettled many around the world.

    There is a burgeoning cottage industry of writers and analysts exploring
    the underpinnings and fallout of this new American "imperialism." In
    Canada, a country that has always fretted about being swallowed up, either
    territorially or culturally, by the behemoth to the south, the spectre of
    an expanding American Empire feeds a deep-seated paranoia.

    At least for some.

    David Frum, the Canadian author and pundit who spent 13 months working as a
    speech writer for Bush -- he is credited with co-authorship of the infamous
    "axis of evil" line -- says he doesn't believe polls that suggest a yawning
    chasm between American and Canadian perceptions of the President. "My
    contention is that the differences are much less dramatic than they are
    usually made out to be," he says. And if Bush is held in less esteem north
    of the border, adds Frum, it is largely because of the distorted lens the
    public sees him through. "The Canadian media have generally taken a very
    belittling approach to him. By and large, they do not take the terror
    problem very seriously, and they communicate that to public opinion."

    Canadians might understandably prefer presidents who are reluctant to flex
    their global political power, either economically or militarily, says Frum,
    but when it comes to things that really matter, we should have the good
    grace to at least not stand in the way. "There's no expectation in
    Washington that Canada and the U.S. should agree on every issue. But they
    do, as a friend, expect to be given the benefit of the doubt on issues that
    they regard as essential to their security."

    It's a point of view that many Canadians find difficult to swallow, given
    the dubious claims of weapons of mass destruction and hostile intentions
    that fuelled America's foray into Iraq. (The Maclean's annual year-end poll
    found that 75 per cent of Canadians believe Ottawa was right to refuse to
    commit troops to Iraq, even if it annoyed our closest trading partner.)
    Yes, we're friends and neighbours, but with feelings running so high, there
    is a danger that our distaste for the leader will spill over to the people
    he represents.

    Clifford Krauss, Canadian correspondent for the New York Times, recently
    encountered two young boys on the street outside his Toronto home, holding
    a sign that read Honk if you hate President Bush! (This is a school
    project.) "I was shocked because of the word hate," says Krauss. "You'd
    never see a sign like that about Saddam Hussein, or Slobodan Milosevic."
    It's a virulent strain of anti-Americanism that the Times reporter says he
    encounters more and more frequently. "I've experienced rude and prejudiced
    behaviour, just because I'm an American," says Krauss. "I've lived in
    countries in Latin America that have tricky relationships with the U.S.,
    but I didn't expect that sort of thing here."

    Truth is, we might well be the ones in need of a dose of perspective. With
    the Canadian political landscape now virtually emptied of leaders we feel
    passionately about -- either negatively or positively -- we might be guilty
    of transference. Our growing distaste for Bush is smug and more than a bit
    juvenile, argues Reginald Stuart, a Mount Saint Vincent University expert
    on U.S.-Canada relations, now in residence at Washington's Woodrow Wilson
    International Center. "When the Communists were in power, we dealt with
    Russian leaders that we disagreed vehemently with on some very fundamental
    issues," he notes.

    Our worries that the Bush administration, viewed by the bulk of the
    Canadian public as overly religious and conservative, will somehow
    interfere with progressive social policies in this country (the Maclean's
    year-end poll identified same-sex marriage and proposals to relax marijuana
    laws as new "wellsprings of national pride") are overblown, says Stuart. In
    Canada, there is still no surer kiss of death for a politician than caving
    into American pressure.

    For decades now, we have alternately railed against, and revelled in, the
    generalized American ignorance of Canada. At the same time, we have prided
    ourselves on being one of our neighbour's harshest critics.

    At the centre of our relationship is the conceit that so much of what we
    produce -- resources, goods, culture, people -- flows south, that America
    must really need us. Now, with the U.S. showing a willingness to stand
    alone and demand the obeisance due to the last remaining superpower,
    Canada, like the rest of the world, is caught up in an uncomfortable new

    Bush's repeated "with us or against us" declarations have made it clear
    that there are new, tougher requirements for being America's ally. And as
    long as he remains well-positioned for another four years in the White
    House, we may have to do our share of puckering up. Canadians know that. We
    just don't have to like it.

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